It wasn’t quite the famous pink vehicle of the title, but a Greyhound bus pulled up outside the Palace Theatre today, with a parade of drag queens and other performers disembarking for the press launch of Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical, the hit Australian musical adaptation of the Oscar-winning film, which opens on 23 March 2009 (previews from 10 March, gala night on 24 March) with a cast led by Jason Donovan (See Today’s Other News for full cast and production details).

Inside the theatre, journalists were treated to three live numbers – “I Will Survive”, “Say a Little Prayer” and a disco medley – performed by 30 fully costumed members of the current Australian production flown in especially for today’s event – and introduced to the four leads – Australian Tony Sheldon and Brits Clive Carter and Oliver Thornton, in addition to Donovan - so far cast for the London premiere.

Director Simon Phillips announced the “sad sorry replacements” for the UK cast, joking about “typecasting” when describing fellow Australian Jason Donovan, who he’s previously directed in a Melbourne production of the play Festen, as an “aching, tired, past his prime” performer they “scoured the streets of London” for and finally found “under piles of detritus”.

Donovan revealed that for him, taking on the role of drag queen Mitzi was like coming “full circle” as he – along with Richard E Grant and the late INXS lead singer Michael Hutchence - had been in screenplay author Stephan Elliott’s original line-up for the 1994 film. The parts were ultimately taken on screen by Hugo Weaving, Terence Stamp and Guy Pearce.

“I’m extremely excited about being involved in this project. It’s a wonderful feelgood show,” Donovan said today, adding, “We want to fill the house.”

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Tony Sheldon reprises the transsexual role of Bernadette (played by Stamp in the film), which he originated on stage in Australia. Phillips and the show’s producers fought hard to bring Sheldon, one of Australia’s leading actors, to London with the show. It’s Sheldon’s fourth-time-lucky crack at a West End debut, having, over the years, been in failed discussions to appear here in The Venetian Twins, Torch Song Trilogy and The Producers.

Speaking at the launch, Sheldon said he was now happy to have waited to make his West End debut in Priscilla. “The thrill to be able to play an Australian character in an Australian story in an Australian production using our finest talent - this is the way to get here.”

Andre Ptaszynski, chief executive of Palace Theatre owners and London co-producers Really Useful, predicted that Priscilla will be a West End hit because of high production values, a shared British-Australian sense of humour, a life-affirming story and the pure “sense of joy and uplift” that it delivers. Announced nearly a year ago, Ptaszynski said the transfer will now – unwittingly - arrive at a perfect time too. “This is a fabulous show to cheer us up … in our current state as we go into recession.”

- by Terri Paddock